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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

School board salary cuts are on hold as House and Senate target term limits and school books

 A student picks out a library book
Craig Moore
/
WFSU Public Media
A student picks out a library book

This year, the legislation to set term limits has more momentum due to backlash over issues like school mask mandates, and teachings regarding LGBTQ kids and race and history.

School board members in Florida are likely to keep their salaries, for now. The Florida Senate has dropped a plan that would have replaced salaries with stipends and is now focused on the term limit issue. The proposal also includes language around how schools select classroom and library materials while giving parents more power to get rid of books they don’t like.

The effort to term limit school board members and defund them nearly stalled in the Senate recently. Now, it's moving again after an amendment to the proposal removed language around school board salaries.

“The salaries are completely out of it. Now we’re only dealing with term limits and they’re 12 years," Republican Sen. Joe Gruters said in a response to a question by Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson during a Tuesday hearing of the bill before the chamber's Rules Committee.

The bill began as an effort to strip boards of their salaries and impose eight-year terms on local school board members. The issue has become a perineal one in the legislature, with Republicans trying for years to give school boards the same limitations on their time in office that lawmakers are subject to. This year, the legislation has more momentum due to backlash over issues like school mask mandates, and teachings regarding LGBTQ kids and race and history. Gruters says his changes restoring salaries and raising the term limits to 12 years are due to conversations with local school officials. And yet—even though the bill has been watered down significantly, Democrats like Sen. Bobby Powell don’t support it.

“I’ve seen the books people are having removed from schools like ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ which many of us think is a classic," Powell said.

"I believe the amendment was a well-intentioned amendment to help a bill that’s not a good bill in my opinion,  but even with the amendment I am down on the amendment and down on the bill.”  

The proposal is also carrying language around how schools choose and adopt library books and classroom materials. It mandates that these instructional materials be posted online and that districts also post materials and books that have been challenged and removed. The bill also requires the Florida Department of Education to create a training program for selecting books and classroom materials.

“I support the 12-year term limits but the library stuff is kooky, and I’ll just leave it at that," said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who is known to buck his party on certain issues.

The issue of giving DOE more say on issues like appropriateness is a red flag for the Florida Coalition for Transgender Liberation's Lakey Love, who worries that DOE can’t be trusted to develop such a program.

“We can assume, coming from a currently hostile and anti-LGBTQ Florida Department of Education, [the bill] will do harm to our children," Love said.

The department is presently headed by Richard Corcoran, a former state Republican lawmaker who has blasted schools over how they teach issues of race, history and gender and sexual identity.

Gruters says the criticism of the bill is unfair. He notes most lawmakers currently in the legislature, including himself, may not have their seats if the state didn’t have term limits, and he argues the proposal does not ban books. Instead, he says, most of the policies around textbook and classroom material adoption are already in state law and that his proposal deals with transparency, not censorship.

"If we care about selecting instructional materials, and we currently have a rigorous set of rules for the selection and adoption of the instructional materials then shouldn’t we also care about library books and school reading lists we put in front of our children?" Gruters said.

"This bill simply ensures some of those rules we put in place for instructional materials are in place for all materials. And currently, some school districts are already doing this. And I would consider this [to be] consider this to be best practices.”

The Senate took up the House version of the bill and amended it with Gruters' changes. It now goes before the full Senate for consideration.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.